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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dane County and Gundersen Health System Break Ground on Second Cow Power Facility

A unique partnership will soon turn cow waste from farms into renewable energy in the Dane County area thanks to a unique partnership between Dane County and Gunderson Health System. Read the press release below for more information.
Three-Farm Community Manure Digester Will Produce Cleaner Energy, Keep Twice the Amount of Phosphorus Out of Area Lakes 
DANE COUNTY, WI -- Construction of the county’s second Cow Power project has begun, paving the way for cleaner lakes and enough clean electricity to power 2,500 homes, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced at a groundbreaking ceremony today.  
Surrounded by rolling hills, happy cows, and with construction equipment poised to begin work, County Executive Parisi was joined for the historic event by Gundersen Health System executives, dairy farmers, and state and local officials at the Ziegler Dairy Farm west of Middleton. 
“Today is an exciting day for Dane County that was made possible through years of hard work and a historic partnership between government, the private sector, and local farmers,” said Parisi.  “Our second Cow Power digester will help clean up our lakes, generate home-grown renewable energy, and keep our farm families farming for generations to come.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Minnesota’s new solar law: Looking beyond percentages

Great news out of Minnesota. To read more about the Solar Energy Jobs Act, see the full legislation or read Dan Haugen's article at Midwest Energy News.
by Dan Haugen 
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed into law an energy bill that’s projected to give the state a more than thirtyfold increase in solar generation by the end of the decade. 
The Solar Energy Jobs Act was rolled into a larger, omnibus economic development bill and approved by the state’s legislature last week. 
The section that’s drawn the most attention is a 1.5 percent by 2020 solar electricity standard for large utilities that is on top of the state’s existing 25 percent by 2025 renewable mandate.

Friday, May 24, 2013

PSC Opens Interconnection Rules Investigation -- Now seeking comments

by Don Wichert

As part of a US DOE Sunshot grant, MREA subcontracted with RENEW to investigate whether Wisconsin’s interconnection rules were up-to-date or needed amending.

RENEW led a team that conducted an installer interconnection survey, assessed Wisconsin’s current interconnection rules, compared Wisconsin’s rules to national best practices,  and had 6 meetings with an interconnection workgroup to consider all relevant information and make recommendations, if warranted.

RENEW petitioned the PSC to open a docket to amend 10 specific items in the current rules that are out-of-date and need to be streamlined to reduce the time and lower the cost of interconnection (

The PSC is now conducting an investigation to get stakeholder input on the need to open an interconnection rules amendment  docket.  Comments are due by Monday, June 17, at noon.

It is very important that members of the renewable energy supply chain businesses and other stakeholders urge the PSC to open a docket on this topic.   These comments have to be filed as described in the linked PDF or here:

ALL filed documents related to docket can be found in WI Public Service Commission’s Electronic Regulatory Filing (ERF) system by following these simple steps.
  1. Go to Search ERF @
  2. Type in docket number 5-gf-233 in docket search box and then click on {GO} button.
These rules only get evaluated about every ten years or so.   If you ever had an issue with interconnection or would like to see the process get easier, faster, and cheaper without reducing safety, now is the time to make your comments heard.
Please let us know if RENEW can be of additional assistance in submitting comments.

‘GreenWhey’ turns cheese wastewater into energy and more

A new project in Turtle Lake, WI aims to use a cheese plant's wastewater to produce electricity, heat and fertilizer. Read the article at Agri-view.
By Jane Fyksen Crops Editor  
TURTLE LAKE -- A $28 million renewable energy project underway in Turtle Lake will convert cheesemaking byproducts into electricity, heat and a new fertilizer. The aim is to provide an alternative to land-spreading of cheese plant wastewater (high in organic content and phosphorus), while at the same time generate electrical power for nearby homes and businesses, while at the same time, cheaper heat for dairy plants. 
Instead of being a liability for the cheese industry, dairy wastewater will be transformed into valuable commodities, thanks to pioneers at GreenWhey Energy in Turtle Lake.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Marquette County board approves biogas pipeline

A biogas pipeline in Central Wisconsin is one step closer to realization after the Marquette County Board of Supervisors approved its installation. See the Portage Daily Register's article for more information.

MONTELLO — The Marquette County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a resolution approving the installation of a biogas pipeline within certain county road right-of-ways from the New Chester Dairy to Brakebush Brothers Inc.  
Gas would be extracted from manure at the New Chester Dairy in Grand Marsh and sent via the pipeline to the Brakebush Brothers plant near Westfield to be used for electricity. 
At its previous meeting, the board voted to delay its vote on the resolution until the company could answer some community members’ concerns.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wisconsin should embrace wind energy

Mark Redstein's new opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel makes a strong case for clean energy in the state.
Over the past few years, Wisconsin's wind industry has faced an unreasonable number of obstacles, more than any other form of energy production, nearly grinding the job- and energy-creating potential of this critical sector to a halt. If Wisconsin is going to move its economy forward, it needs to stop pushing back and open the door to clean, renewable wind energy.  
Fortunately, the door has started to creak open.  
On April 29, the Brown County Circuit Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association that claimed the state's wind siting rule, PSC 128, was improperly enacted. The judge disagreed and ruled that the Public Service Commission lawfully enacted a balanced and comprehensive wind siting rule. ...

Monday, May 13, 2013

MidAmerican's wind energy project is $1.9 billion windfall for Iowa

More good news out of Iowa. MidAmerican's energy project will be the single biggest economic investment in the state's history, according to the governor.

Article from Des Moines Register is below:
MidAmerican Energy Co.’s $1.9 billion investment in wind energy in Iowa will help hold down customers’ electric bills, make the state more attractive to companies looking for greener energy, and create good jobs, state and utility leaders said Wednesday.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Contrarian Perspective on Baseload Power

by Michael Vickerman
Though equipped with a license to operate for an additional 20 years, the Kewaunee nuclear power station rode into the sunset this week, having generated its final kilowatt-hour. Dominion Resources, the Virginia-based company that owns the 550 MW facility along Lake Michigan, plans to spend nearly $1 billion to decommission the facility and transform the acreage back to its former status as farm fields. The process could take as long as 60 years.

It’s more than a little odd to see a 39-year-old nuclear plant taken offline in a state that’s replete with middle-aged fossil units. But in this story, age and fuel type matter less than the extremely unfavorable market structure confronting an independently owned baseload plant in the Upper Midwest, especially one lacking a power purchase agreement.

Back in 2005, when the Kewaunee plant was sold to Dominion, the prevailing expectation among Wisconsin electricity stakeholders was that sales and revenues would never stop growing. They were convinced then that there would be room for every new power station on the drawing boards or under construction. But when reality intruded in the form of a nasty economic contraction, electricity loads headed downward.

Just after the peaking of electricity sales in 2007, an unusually large wave of new generating units came online, including a mammoth 1,235 megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant just south of Milwaukee. (More about the Elm Road station later.) In a flash, the once roomy environment for power plants vanished, leaving in its wake a glutted field of generators trying to stay afloat in a shrinking pool of revenues.

Wholesale electricity prices in the Upper Midwest are set in accordance with a generator’s marginal cost of energy. Without a captive rate base to underwrite safety upgrades and relicensing expenses, Dominion desperately needed a power purchase agreement to have any chance to operate Kewaunee at a profit. 

But the utilities, who have their own middle-aged generators plants to protect, were not about to throw a lifeline to Kewaunee. Recognizing an opportunity to thin the generation herd without having to write down one of their own assets, they decided to let brute economics administer the coup de grace to an unwanted competitor.

As a baseload plant, Kewaunee was poorly adapted to compete in a depressed market. Nuclear power plants operate pretty much at one speed--full throttle—and end up producing the same quantity of electricity at 2:00 AM, when the wholesale price of electricity in the Upper Midwest is often below the cost of production, as they do at 2:00 PM, when the prevailing price is at or above production cost.

Unfortunately for a generator like Kewaunee, there are more off-peak hours than on-peak hours in a year. When baseload plants compete in a market that does not cover the marginal cost of operations, they tend to hemorrhage money. 

Ten years ago, baseload generators were touted as the firewall that would protect ratepayers against price gouging orchestrated by unscrupulous power marketers like Enron. Today, we have a diametrically opposed dynamic. In a chronically depressed market, baseload generators are the ones in greatest need of additional ratepayer outlays to sustain them. 

This point merits much more discussion than can be squeezed into this column, as it signals the emerging obsolescence of the traditional utility business model. Suffice it to say that we can now appreciate baseload generation as a luxury made affordable by rapid load growth rates that allow the investment in capacity expansion to be spread over a larger population of ratepayers.  Sustained load growth encouraged utilities to capture economies of scale by building centralized power plants and running them flat out over many decades. This growth was essential for driving power prices lower through much of the previous century.

But when loads stop growing, the operational inflexibility of a large coal or nuclear plant becomes a liability. Unlike a gas-fired turbine, a baseload coal plant cannot be ramped up and down without incurring wear and tear. And, unlike a solar electric array, a baseload generator cannot turn itself off at night, when wholesale energy prices fall through the floor.

Nowhere is this situation more evident than with Elm Road, the aforementioned coal plant owned mostly by Milwaukee-based We Energies.  With a price tag of $2.3 billion, this twin-unit leviathan was the most expensive construction project in Wisconsin’s history.

And how has it performed to date? In 2012 , its first full year of operation, Elm Road produced only 18% of its rated capacity, roughly one quarter of its projected output for that period. By comparison, We Energies’ newest wind power installation, Glacier Hills, logged a capacity factor of 27% in 2012.

In March 2013, the most recent month in which utilities have reported their production data, Elm Road’s capacity factor dropped to an abysmal 8%, the lowest percentage among We Energies’ mainstay generators. Indeed, a hypothetical 1,235 MW solar farm in We Energies territory would likely have outproduced Elm Road that month, recurring spells of cloudy weather notwithstanding.

Now, if a new building was unable to achieve a 20% occupancy factor in its first year, the building owner would face a stark choice: find more tenants or let the banks take over. Similarly, if an airline found itself struggling to fill more than one of every five seats in a given route, it wouldn’t take long for management to cut back on the number of flights or cancel service between those airports altogether.  

Unlike the hypothetical airline or building owner, the parent companies that own Elm Road are sitting pretty, because they can count on receiving monthly lease payments that will, over a 30-year period, recover the capital sunk into that plant, along with a tidy double-digit return on investment. Those lease payments are now embedded in utility rates, whether Elm Road is cranking out the kilowatt-hours or gathering dust.

The same market conditions—low natural gas prices and depressed demand--that hastened Kewanee’s retirement are partially responsible for Elm Road’s breathtakingly poor performance to date. But the plant’s difficulties are exacerbated by its massive size and its operational inflexibility.

There are likely a few hours in every weekday when market prices rise high enough to bring an Elm Road unit online. The trouble is, Elm Road is not equipped to cycle like a gas-fired plant just to cover a few afternoon hours. When those situations arise, the system operator dispatches a smaller, more flexible generator that can do the job, even if Elm Road’s unit energy cost is nominally lower. So Elm Road just sits there, consuming electricity instead of producing it.

There is simply not enough market space right now in Wisconsin to accommodate a large newcomer like Elm Road at anywhere near its rated capacity, even after Kewaunee’s departure. Until the generation herd thins out some more, Elm Road’s utility to the ratepayers who are picking up the tab for this monumental misallocation of investment capital will remain virtually nonexistent.

The lessons from Kewaunee and Elm Road are clear: building baseload plants belongs to a bygone era. The older ones are fraught with legacy costs, while the newer ones carry burdensome financial risks. Those states that manage to avoid the choking levels of overcapacity we have in Wisconsin have plenty of room to stake out an aggressive clean energy development program going forward. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

County to secure final agreements necessary to begin construction of second cow power facility

From the office of Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive:

Funding, Partnerships Secured to Begin Project in Coming Weeks in Town of Springfield

MADISON -- Construction of Dane County’s second “Cow Power” facility is set to begin in the coming weeks as final agreements needed for the project are slated to be approved this evening, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.
Pending approval by the Dane County Board at their meeting tonight, the agreements will secure $3.3 million in previously-awarded grant funding from the state to help finance construction of the digester just outside of Middleton. The agreements also formalize private ownership and operations of the facility with Gundersen Health System.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

RENEW Wisconsin’s New Executive Director Announced

RENEW Wisconsin’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Tyler Huebner has been chosen to be RENEW’s Executive Director, beginning June 1.

Tyler comes to RENEW with a rich background in clean energy, government, and nonprofit organizations. He worked for the State of Wisconsin (Division of Energy Services) and the U.S. Department of Energy (Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Division) managing initiatives within the Weatherization Assistance Program. Tyler was also a consultant for ICF International and a Facilities Management Engineer for the University of Iowa, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He holds a Master’s degree from Stanford University in Civil and
Environmental Engineering.

“Tyler brings an enthusiastic attitude and a unique ability to work with other stakeholders. He clearly sees both the challenges and opportunities related to leading a renewable energy policy organization in Wisconsin today,” said Jenny Heinzen, RENEW’s Board President.

Aside from his busy working life, Tyler and his wife Heather are new parents with the birth of their first child, Emma born in April. They reside in Madison.